Assembly holds off moorage fee increase

Five out of eight vote to table the proposal

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Juneau Assembly has decided to hold off on the Docks and Harbors Board's proposal to raise moorage fees by July 1.

Since September, the Docks and Harbors Board has held numerous public hearings on its plan to increase moorage fees by 250 percent over five years. The board said the increase is necessary to restore the harbors because their previous owner, the state, had deferred maintenance for decades.

The proposal, which has created an uproar among harbor users, failed to win the majority support among the Assembly.

At their Monday meeting, five out of the eight present Assembly members voted for tabling the proposal. Assembly members Randy Wanamaker, Johan Dybdahl and Merrill Sanford voted against it. Assembly member David Stone was absent.

The Assembly will meet the Docks and Harbors Board April 4 to further discuss the increase.

Deputy Mayor Marc Wheeler said the city should wait to see if the Legislature will allocate some money to the city for the maintenance.

"I don't think we are sending a good message to the Legislature," Wheeler said. "We are asking them for money and we raise the fees and show we can pay for it ourselves."

Wheeler said he is reluctant to raise the fee because once rates are raised, it is hard for them to go down.

Port Director John Stone has been working with harbormasters from other cities to lobby the Legislature to get a matching fund for the maintenance. He said the Assembly shouldn't wait for the Legislature to come to rescue.

"There isn't even a bill in the Legislature yet," Stone said. "If the Assembly doesn't approve the increase, we will have to cut $200,000 out of our $2 million budget. We will have to reduce some services. We have been trimming our budget for three years. Now we will have to cut to the bones."

Wanamaker said the Assembly should support the board's proposal.

"We direct the board to be self-reliant and they do what needs to be done to restore the harbors to a safe condition," Wanamaker said. "Now the Assembly is going against that."

Jim Preston, chairman of the finance committee under the Docks and Harbors Board, said he is frustrated with the Assembly's decision.

"The Assembly waited until the last minute to put this off," Preston said. The board asked the Assembly for a work session about the raise in December but the Assembly declined the invitation.

"If they don't allow us to raise the fees, the only thing we can do is to cut expenses and lay people off. Ultimately, we will have to shut down some harbors," Preston said.

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